Division of Sponsored Program
Ethnic Inclusion Effort for Iowa Engineering

Principle Research Areas

Air pollution engineering
Atmospheric chemistry
Biochemical engineering
Biofilm engineering and control strategies
Data Assimilation and Geo-informatics
Drug delivery
Engineering education
Extremophile biotechnology
Medical devices
Numerical modeling of weather, climate, and geochemical cycle
Oxidative stress in viral infections
Polymer reaction engineering
Satellite Remote Sensing
Supercritical fluids

Current research strengths of the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering are in the areas of global and regional atmospheric modeling, biomaterials medical engineering, cellular engineering, photopolymerization, biocatalysis, and biofuels.

Biochemical Engineering

Biochemical engineering involves the industrial application of enzymes, microorganisms, cells, and tissues for production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other materials of commercial value.

The department is working to solve problems with the use of insect cell culture for recombinant protein and viral insecticide production. Research is being conducted to improve the quality and quantity of recombinant proteins produced in large-scale bioreactors. In addition, a continuous viral insecticide production system is being developed for the large-scale production of these environmentally safe alternatives to chemical insecticides. The insect cell/baculovirus system is being used as a model system to investigate the role of oxidative stress in viral cytotoxicity.

Carbon dioxide accumulation, which commonly occurs in large-scale bioreactor systems, affects insect cell growth; the department's researchers are investigating the corresponding effect on insect cell growth and the baculovirus infection process.

The department works to design technologies for the characterization and use of extremophiles, organisms that possess unusual abilities to survive in harsh chemical environments. In these studies, novel bioreactor systems that can withstand extremes of temperature, pressure, pH, and salinity are being developed. Extremophile strategies for survival also are being studied, with the aim of discovering unique enzymes for industrial application as well as evaluating molecular interactions that govern protein stability under extreme conditions.

In addition to the study of natural extremophiles, efforts to engineer stability in biocatalysts for industrial processing are under way. Novel solvent-tolerant enzymes and organisms for environmentally beneficial chemical reactions are being generated using molecular biology tools. Combinations of chemical and biological processing are being used to produce valued chemicals from renewable feedstocks. This work contributes to the interdisciplinary training of engineers and scientists to address the challenges of minimizing and cleaning up environmental pollution, while maximizing the economic benefits of chemical processing.

The department also conducts research in structural enzymology, molecular mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions, and biocatalysis. The laboratory uses biophysical, structural, and molecular biology techniques to understand the details of enzyme action. This information is used to design and engineer biocatalysts for the production of chiral compounds. Work also is under way on cellular recognition and signaling processing during infection and inflammation. Knowledge gained from these studies aids the design of drugs and biological sensors for bacterial presence.

The integration of biotechnology with traditional chemical engineering has led to an interdisciplinary area involving other engineering departments and the Departments of Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry, Free Radical and Radiation Biology, and Microbiology and the College of Pharmacy. This focus includes involvement in the University's Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing, whose fermentation capabilities are highlighted by its 1,500-liter fermentor.

Multidisciplinary Research
Biomedical Research

The department's research involves a multidisciplinary approach to solving problems in the medical field, particularly in drug delivery and biomaterials.

Researchers are working to develop safe delivery systems that target drugs precisely in the human body and avoid premature metabolization or elimination. To treat respiratory infections, micron-sized particles are being engineered with properties that enhance aerodynamic performance, particle stability, and targeting within the respiratory tract. Polymeric vehicles are being designed to provide sustained protection and prevention against cancers by kick-starting the immune system. Finally, work is under way to overcome barriers to efficient delivery of DNA, with the potential to provide cures for genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis and X-Linked Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (X-SCID). This work brings together collaborators from the Carver College of Medicine, the Colleges of Dentistry and Pharmacy, and the Departments of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering.

In the biomaterials realm, new materials are being developed that can interact with the human body to perform certain functions while maintaining compatibility. A project with the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences involves development of biodegradable stent materials to alleviate a serious eye disease induced by a blood clot in the central retinal vein. Research with the Department of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery is exploring the development of photo-patterned surfaces for directed growth of cells to improve cochlear implants. Current research in the tissue engineering field applies microfabrication techniques to develop scaffolds that are biodegradable and biocompatible with cell-interactive properties, and that directly incorporate controlled-release functionality within the scaffold.

The Department also conducts research that is focused on self-assembling systems, rational design of novel drug and gene delivery systems, and development of sophisticated scaffolds for tissue-specific regeneration. In tissue engineering, microfabrication techniques are applied to novel biomaterials to provide spatial control over tissue formation and to integrate minimally invasive scaffold delivery strategies. In drug and gene delivery, researchers are exploring the synergistic application of degradable particle technology, CpG oligonucleotides, and heat-shock protein therapy for generating sustained, stronger immune responses against carcinomas.

Students involved in animal research have access to the University's Office of Animal Resources, which is adjacent to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Energy and Environment

Chemical engineers are well-suited to make major contributions toward meeting challenges for the environment, energy, and sustainable development. The Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering has an active research program in the environmental areas of air pollution, biofuels, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric CO2 fluxes, environmental change, bioremediation, and the design of new environmentally compatible technologies. Particular emphasis is placed on the chemistry and physics of local, regional, and global air-pollution problems. Research in support of this activity includes high-speed computing and detailed sensitivity analysis.

This work involves three centers and institutes on campus. The Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research brings together University scientists and scholars from more than 20 disciplines, including chemistry, civil and environmental engineering, geography, geology, law, and medicine. The center's chief area of concern is environmental change. Chemical and biochemical engineering researchers interact with scientists at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, a research institute focusing on applied fluid mechanics; their collaborations involve environmental fluid mechanics and air pollution field studies. The Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute at UI provides an interdisciplinary home for chemical and biochemical researchers working on the development, application, and environmental and health effects of nanomaterials.


Photopolymerizations are chain reactions in which a liquid monomer is converted to a solid, durable polymer in a process triggered by light of the appropriate wavelength. The use of light, rather than heat, to drive a polymerization reaction offers advantages in developing new processes or products.

Photopolymerizations provide both spatial control and temporal control of reactions, since light can be directed to locations of interest in the system and is easily shuttered on or off. Photopolymerizations also provide solvent-free formulations, which reduce the emissions of volatile organic pollutants, and they exhibit extremely rapid reaction rates. These advantages have led to tremendous growth in the application of photopolymerizations in the private sector, but much of this growth has occurred without a fundamental understanding of the underlying chemical processes.

The department's research in this area focuses on comprehensive characterization of the kinetics, mechanisms, structure, and properties of photopolymerizations. Work includes the following types of studies: characterization of the photochemical processes by which polymerizations may be initiated; kinetic characterization of cationic photopolymerization; development of methods for photopolymerization of thick polymers and composites; development of photopolymerization systems based upon agricultural feedstocks; new methods for monitoring high-speed photopolymerization reactions; nanostructured materials through photopolymerization; biomedical devices formed by photopolymerization; and influence of order on photopolymerization reactions.

Through collaborative research agreements, graduate students have access to a variety of other facilities on The University of Iowa campus. These include the tissue culture facilities in the Department of Biological Sciences, the Department of Microbiology, the Large-Scale Fermentation Facility, the Iowa Laser Facility, the High-Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility, the Electron Probe Microanalysis and Electron Microscopy Facilities, and the Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Facility. The Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering actively promotes multidisciplinary research and provides key leadership in two University of Iowa multidisciplinary centers for biocatalysis and bioprocessing, and for environmental research. These centers offer unique resources for graduate study.

Research Facilities and Equipment
Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing

The Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing fosters research and encourages intellectual interactions and communication between University of Iowa scientists and biotechnology industries. Its primary aims are to attract industrial attention to the state of Iowa and to provide highly educated personnel for biotechnology industries. The center also provides strong input and leadership in strengthening and creating new interdisciplinary academic opportunities at the University. Faculty scientists from six University departments participate in several general research areas: fundamental properties of biocatalysts, discovery of new biocatalysts, applications of biocata-lysts (synthesis of chemical, biosensing technology, development of bioactive agents), and bioremediation.

Environmental Research

The Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research fosters interdisciplinary study of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that influence the earth's changes and trends. It brings together University specialists in biogeochemical cycles, ecological systems and dynamics, hydrologic and climate systems, and the health sciences to evaluate how global change affects and interacts with the earth's surface processes and with its people, on both global and regional scales.

The department offers a wide variety of facilities to support and develop research activities.

Air Pollution Computational, Field, and Laboratory Studies

The department maintains extensive facilities for computational, field, and laboratory studies of air pollution, carbon cycle gases, aerosols, and nanoparticles at the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER). The center occupies 5,000 square feet of laboratory and office space on the fourth floor of the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories.

CGRER houses one R2 ImmersaDesk Portable Large Scale Visualization System and is linked on campus to two more R2 ImmersaDesk units.

The center's computer laboratory for environmental and spatial data analysis provides numerous Windows and UNIX workstations, sophisticated software packages, and workstations and a file server necessary to run intensive visualization programs. The network backbone is University supported with high-speed wireless throughout. A variety of digital environmental databases and an extensive library of documentation and related references are available. There are 4 Beowulf Linux clusters on site and Linux clusters of 4, 16, 18, and 20 nodes for large computations and data assimilation. CGRER retains 15 TB of redundant storage and 50 TB of total storage; local storage space is scalable and expandable. A variety of software packages and programming languages are available for data analysis and display, including Arc/Info, Arcview, NCAR Graphics, Matlab, S-Plus, and Vis5d, as well as geographical information software. The ESRI software suite is part of a University-wide site license.

Laboratory and field equipment includes aerosol samplers, including scanning mobility particles sizers for aerosols from 3 nm to 1 micron with time resolution to 30 seconds; aerosol particle sizers for aerodynamic measurements of in situ particles with time resolution to 1 second; and varied condensation particle counters for measuring total particle counts. Several hygroscopic tandem differential mobility analyzers are used, as well as varied aerosol generation devices and unique aerosol inlets for RH and temperature modification and control. Cloud droplet number can be measured in the lab or in the field using a Droplet Measurement Technologies cloud condensation nuclei detector. Advanced computer control of instruments is available through Labview.

Selected instruments are field deployable in a custom air conditioned trailer. Through collaboration with the IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, access to micrometeorology sensors, 1-D and 2-D elastic and Raman LIDAR, and gas sensors is available, including multichannel ammonia monitors.

Biochemical Engineering

Biochemical engineering laboratories provide facilities for preparation of biological media and cultivation of organisms as well as for separation and analysis of biomolecules. This equipment includes biological incubators and floor incubator shakers, agitated and airlift bioreactors, light microscopes, autoclaves, Vi-Cell cell counter, thermocycler for PCR amplification of DNA, high- and low-speed centrifuges, UV-Vis spectrophotometers, a lyophilizer, biological safety cabinets, and an anaerobic glove box. Phase-contrast and epifluorescence microscopes, gel electrophoresis systems, gas chromatography units with flame ionization and electron capture detectors, and several high-performance liquid chromatography systems with refractive index and photodiode array detectors are available for characterization of microorganisms and constituent biomolecules. In addition, the lab has multiple extremophile cultivation systems including a high-pressure (0.1-100 MPa) cell cultivation system, several continuous cultivation systems, and high-temperature oil bath shakers for physiological studies of extremophilic microbes.

Through collaborative research agreements, graduate students also have access to specialized facilities for electron microscopy, large-scale fermentation, protein structure, recombinant DNA research, and tissue culture/hybridoma; the Flow Cytometry Facility; and the High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Facility.

Biomedical Research

The biomedical engineering laboratories house particle technology equipment including microemulsion equipment for drug encapsulation, sonicators, benchtop scale spray dryers, laser diffraction particle sizer, zetapotentiometer; DNA preparation equipment, gel electrophoresis apparatus, interfacial stress rheometer, surface tensiometer, UV-Vis/fluorescent plate reader, high-performance liquid chromatograph, luminometer, lyophilizer, custom-built simulated cough machine, microscopes, incubators, wet chemistry equipment, rotary shakers, incubated plate shakers, autoclave, centrifuges, and laboratory computers. Cell culture and bacterial culture facilities are housed adjacent to the laboratories.

Graduate students also have access to core research facilities including the Central Microscopy Research Facility, Flow Cytometry Facility, DNA Facility, Electron Spin Resonance Facility, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility, High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Facility, and the Center for Gene Therapy.

Computer Facilities

The departmental computer facilities contain a variety of graphics workstations, printers, and microcomputers. The department is supported by the college's Engineering Computer Services, which maintains a large network of high performance UNIX and Windows XP workstations along with extensive commercial and public domain software. The department also has access to the University's central research facility in high-speed vector computation. This facility has SGI Power Challenger minisupercomputers and provides nodes for external links for access to supercomputers.

Photopolymerization Science and Engineering Facilities

The Photopolymerization Center was established to advance fundamental understanding of the kinetics and mechanisms of photopolymerizations. To this end, the center provides unique opportunities for collaborations by industrial and academic investigators to explore photopolymerization processes and develop novel applications based on photopolymerizations.

The center provides equipment and instrumentation for the characterization of photopolymerization systems on the molecular, microscopic, and macroscopic levels. Center researchers pursue understanding of fundamental photophysical and photochemical processes involved in the photoinitiation reaction; characterization of high-speed propagation and termination kinetics that lead to the polymer structure; and evaluation of material properties through the course of the photopolymerization reaction. Both radical and cationic photopolymerizations are studied with state-of-the-art experimental techniques to elucidate the complex chemical and physical mechanisms that control the initiation, propagation, and termination of the active centers.

Surface Science

Some of the equipment and techniques currently available for studying surface science include chemisorption and physisorption (BET), microbalance, mass spectrometer system, gas chromatography, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmissions electron microscopy (CTEM), and a variety of reactor systems and catalyst preparation facilities.

Funding Sources

The Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering receives research support from many sources, including the following:

American Heart Association
Ashland Chemical Co.
Biotechnology Research and Development Corp.
Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation
Corn Board of Iowa
Council on Chemical Research
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Department of Defense (DoD)
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Dow Chemical
Dreyfus Fund
DSM Desotech
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
EPRI-Electric Power Research Institute
Fusion Systems
Iowa Academy of Sciences
Iowa Corn Promotion Board
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Iowa Department of Economic Development
Iowa Energy Center
Iowa Soybean Promotion Board
MUCIA- Midwest Univ. Consortium for International Affairs
U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
National Corn Growers Association
National Corn Refiners
U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)
NESCAUM-Northeast States for Coordinate Air Use Management
Sigma Research
State of Iowa
Sugar Association, Inc.
UCB Chemicals
Whitaker Foundation
World Bank